When it comes to health and fitness, adding new habits to your busy life can be a real challenge. Whether you are trying to balance your summer wedding invitations and vacations or simply want to enjoy the sunshine with friends, summer can be one of the busiest times of the year. For those of us with packed calendars who also want to be our healthiest, it’s much more realistic to commit to leaving certain behaviors behind rather than adopting new ones. The good news is that sometimes, getting in the best shape of your life is less about what you should do and more about what you shouldn’t do.
First, let’s define what being “in shape” means. Regardless of what it used to mean, we’d like to rebrand it to be your healthiest self, which looks and feels different to everyone. Being in the best shape of your life is not a number on a scale or even a six-pack of abs. After all, a certain pants size could never be powerful enough to give you that lit-from-within glow and limitless energy. With that being said, say goodbye to these 10 habits, and you can become your healthiest self (without adding a single task to your to-do list!).
1. Staying up late
I get it: Sometimes, you can’t help but binge the newest Netflix show, but sacrificing sleep to watch “just one more episode” will affect your body long after the credits have rolled. Lack of sleep can cause unnecessary cravings, negatively affect your metabolism, increase stress, and make you feel less motivated to get your body moving the next day. To prioritize sleep, try establishing a bedtime routine, such as having a cup of tea or reading a book, and aim for the same lights-out time each night.
2. Drinking (too much) alcohol
It may be hard to pass up the third pour of your favorite cocktail (especially when summer party season is upon us), but drinking too much alcohol can negatively affect your health in multiple ways. Alcohol is dehydrating and we’re all familiar with that lack of motivation or a craving for breakfast sandwiches and pastries after a night out. If you’re sober-curious or know you are your best without alcohol in your life, swap your next margarita or glass of rosé with one of these non-alcoholic spirits. If you live for an Aperol spritz come summertime and believe in everything in moderation, you go girl! Just create boundaries around your drinking (like limiting alcohol to the weekends or stopping after two drinks) that help you feel your best (and avoid a hangover the next day). By setting parameters around your drinking, you’ll be saving your body from some serious stress.
3. Relying on processed foods
Whether you call it “snack food” or “junk food,” you probably already know that processed foods should be a treat that’s occasionally enjoyed, and whole foods should make up a majority of your diet. Now, we’re not about restricting, limiting, or avoiding (all food is meant to be enjoyed!), but if every meal is built around something processed, frozen, or with an ingredients list full of words you can’t pronounce, you could probably afford to add a little more veggies, healthy fats, and clean protein to your meals. When you eat more whole foods and less processed foods, you can notice a difference in mood, gut health, digestion, sleep quality, and physical performance (just to name a few!).
Although it’s easier said than done, reducing stress has been shown to have many benefits to your overall health. The stress hormone cortisol might cause you to overeat (or crave less nutritious foods), affect sleep quality, and suppress the immune system, all of which negatively impact the health of your body. If getting into the best shape of your life is a priority, managing your stress is paramount. Whether you talk it out with someone you trust, journal, or exercise for stress relief, decreasing stress will improve your life, health, and body.
5. Using a fitness tracker
Fitness trackers can provide us with really cool data about how much we move, how well we sleep, and our average heart rate, but it can be easy to get fixated on how many calories it tells us we burn. If you want to get into the best shape of your life, stop relying on fitness trackers for caloric burn and instead, maintain as much consistency in your workouts and diet as possible. Rather than checking how many calories you burned during a workout, focus on how you feel and how strong you are.
6. Staying sedentary all day
If you’re really looking to maximize your time to become more fit, add in movement wherever and whenever you can throughout the day. After all, true health is not about fitting in a 60-minute intense workout—it’s just about living less sedentarily. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, incorporate movement breaks in your work day (going for a walk or doing 10 push-ups before a meeting), and walk or bike instead of hopping in your car. As small as these changes might seem, they really add up.
7. Focusing on the scale
Weight might seem like the most obvious measure of success when it comes to fitness, but the reality is that the scale doesn’t come close to telling the story (and can even be damaging!). While there’s a time and a place to track your weight (i.e. if encouraged by your doctor, etc.), it can be easy to fixate on a number and forget the bigger picture (and worse: spiral into destructive patterns). Instead of using your weight to determine progress (which can fluctuate based on your cycle, water retention, digestion, and training load, FYI), try using how you feel as a measure of success. While weight is an important health factor, it’s not the one and only way to measure progress.
8. Skipping meals or eating a low-carb diet
PSA: Your body needs food (and a lot of it) just to survive. It needs a lot more to move, to think, etc. If you’re not getting enough glycogen (AKA energy from carbohydrates stored as sugar), you may not perform well, which leads to sluggishness and lackluster workouts. Likewise, if you’re not getting enough of a variety of nutrients (like protein, fats, phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc.), your body cannot function its best, much less recover from workouts and work hard again the next day. The best way to make lasting changes is not to eat less but to eat more healthy foods. Listen to your hunger cues and fuel up before and after workouts.
9. Counting calories
Counting calories often leads to an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead of tracking your caloric intake, focus on ensuring that most of your meals are nutritionally dense, contain lots of protein, and make you feel good. You’d be surprised just how many calories you need per day (which is highly specific and difficult to estimate without real metabolic testing or talking with your doctor), but if you really listen to your body, it’ll tell you when it needs sustenance and when it has had enough. Focus the energy it takes to count calories on something more valuable, like cooking your own meals. Oh, and if you want some ice cream, have some ice cream.
10. Comparing yourself to anyone else
Social media can make it easy to play the comparison game, but it’s important to remember that even if we all ate the same things and exercised the exact same way for the same amount of time, we’d all still look very different because no two bodies operate the same way. Having goals is extremely important so we can stay motivated, but make sure your goals are intrinsic (like “to feel confident in a bathing suit” or “to get more energy”) rather than extrinsic (like “to look like [insert celebrity or influencer here]”). The most confident people know that they don’t need to be perfect in order to be worth celebrating, so stop trying to look like everyone else and start celebrating exactly who you are. There is no finish line in the pursuit of health and fitness, so enjoy every step of the journey.